Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Jesus Model of Discipleship

Over the centuries writers have puzzled about how Jesus made disciples.  Before departing this earth he gave the believers their marching orders: Make disciples of every people group everywhere.  Since that time the Church has had a mixed review as to achieving this end.  It is apparently much easier to make converts that disciples.  If we define a disciple of Jesus as one who is becoming more like Jesus while fulfilling the mission of making disciples of every nation, then we have had only moderate success through the ages.  Maybe it is time to revisit the Jesus Model of Discipleship.

Virtually every book written about Jesus and discipleship has been done from the limited vantage point of trying to discern what Jesus did rather than why Jesus did it.  When analyzing the "what" we have very little room to maneuver around the "why."  The emphasis is on the method that Jesus used rather than the principles that he used.  This is an important distinction as it limits our recognizable options.  The methods of Jesus are fairly straight forward:

  • He made disciples while pursuing a higher vision
  • While many disciples chose to follow him, his core team was hand picked.
  • Rather than pouring over Biblical texts the disciples listened to Jesus
  • Rather than an event, they experienced a major life style change by joining his team
  • While interacting with Jesus the disciples spent a lot of time interacting with one another
  • The disciples did not stop at listening, Jesus sent them out to experience ministry by doing
  • Jesus was a master at taking experiences and turning them into learning opportunities

As a theological educator I am very concerned that we have swallowed a model of education that flows out of the Enlightenment and its emphasis on rationality and the scientific method.  While both play an important part in helping us understand our world they also lead us down a path dead end when it comes to developing virtues and values.  

We need to return to the Jesus Model to discover the principles.  Jesus understood that discipleship is a process and he developed a model that was culturally appropriate for the time in which he lived.  We need to return to the model and discover the underlying principles so that we can develop methods that are compatible with theological education and the time in which we live.  We MUST incorporate into our current methods of theological education teaching and training that transforms our students and makes them transformers for their churches and communities.  I am reminded of a short poem by Rick Warren

Methods are many
Principles are few
Methods change often
Principles never do

Let's go beyond the methods and find the principles from which to construct new methods that achieve the mission to make disciples of all nations.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Garden of Eden Discovered

It is true, no hoax.  I know “about” where the Garden of Eden is located.  Ok, ok, it may not be exactly, but definitely the neighborhood.  After a thorough search and a lot of study we have been able to narrow the possibilities down to one key region.  In the past it was thought the Garden may have been located in what is now Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. There is still speculation that this area may have been the site of the building of the great tower that led to a “babel” of languages.   But we now know the truth!  Let me explain.

The story of man is written in the code of our genetic makeup. All humans carry genetic features that help us track where they have come from and where they went (such as the Y chromosome known as M168).  More and more evidence is stacking up that through genetic tracking we now know that man
originated in Africa.  While there is some doubt as to the exact location (some are holding out for South Africa while others agree that it was probably East Africa) there is a growing consensus that we are all African in origin.

God gave the command to Adam to go and populate the world shortly after his creation (Gen. 1:28).  It was evident that God had a mission for His creation and that it called for us to be busy about His work.  While there was some hesitation and delay, Adam and Eve’s dependents began to head out of Africa to populate the globe.

Once again God is calling on Africans to go forth in maturity to fulfill a mission.  Matthew 28:19,20 (the Great Commission) gives us the clarion call of Jesus to Go and be about the Father’s business of making disciples.  Just over a decade ago the continent of Africa was called the “Hopeless Continent” .  But now across the web and across the world Africa is being viewed as the continent of hope and potential.  Global Christianity is also seeing something new and fresh.

Africa On Mission 

Just a few weeks ago I had the privilege to participate in a missions conference in one of the state capitals of Nigeria.  What made it a bit unusual was that it was organized and paid for by a local church.  Over 1,500 leaders from 15 countries joined together to work out strategies for completing the Great Commission in their generation.  Most of the speakers and workshop leaders were African.  It was an encouraging time of witnessing what has begun in Africa.
Once again God is calling on the children of the new Adam to move out of Africa on mission to complete what so many others have contributed to but failed to complete: fulfilling the Great Commission.  It is poetic that as the first Adam moved out to physically populate the earth now the representatives of the last Adam are going forth with the message of a new birth to populate heaven and bring forth a people from every tribe, tongue and nation to worship our God (Rev. 7:9).
1 Corinthians 1:27 (NLT)
27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wisdom vs ???

What comes to mind when I ask, "what is the opposite of wisdom?"  The first thing that came to my mind was foolishness. But I have had to back track and reconsider.  The first thing we need to do is define our terms.  Wisdom has different uses and different meanings in different parts of the Old Testament.  What we are most interested in is the wisdom discussed by Solomon and mentioned in Proverbs and Psalms.  This has been defined as -"the art of reaching one's end by the use of the right means" (Smend).  Godly wisdom would be "achieving the purposes of God in God's ways."  Foolishness can be defined as a "Void of understanding or sound judgment; weak in intellect; applied to general character."   

Frederick Herzberg was a psychologist who did a lot of work on motivation.  He developed research on what motivates us and what can demotivate us.  What he discovered was that what motivates us does not necessarily demotivate us in its absence and visa-versa.  For instance (see chart) having a sense of achievement can be very motivating, but not having a great sense of achievement is not necessarily demotivating to the same degree.  Which brings us back to wisdom.  The absence of wisdom is not necessarily foolishness.  In fact I would argue that the vacuum left by a lack of wisdom leads to rules and regulations (see previous post).  If we cannot count on people doing the right thing then we need to put into place rules to ensure they will do the right thing.  The problem, of course, is that we will never be able to put enough rules into place to ensure the right thing is done.  When rules replace wisdom the absurd replaces the obvious (see Barry Schwartz).  Decisions are no longer guided by common sense and wisdom but by fear of the consequences for not keeping the rules.

Christian ministries need to be guided by wisdom not an abundance of rules and regulations.  If we have staff who are not wise and do not understand the difference between wisdom (focusing on God's interests) and poor judgement (self-interest) then we need to do some major training or find new staff.  Godly living and holiness can never be the by-produce of rule keeping.  This was proven over and over by the experience of Israel through the ages.  Jesus came not to set up right conduct by an abundance of rules, but to change hearts so that the natural choice would be to live wisely in order to glorify God with all that we say and do. Christian organizations need to focus on developing wisdom in their staff to guide Godly decisions. Rules are designed to provide standard responses to situations and is a sure way to kill creativity and initiative. I still like the Nordstrom's rules for their organization:  
Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. No other rules!
I think will rewrite the ICM rules:

Rule #1: Use Godly wisdom in all situations.  There are no need for any other rules!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rules Rule!

The origin of the word bureaucracy is interesting.  It is a French word that means "rule by desk."  According to some sources the word came into being when a German business man complained to his French partner the frustration he was experiencing in shipping products to France.  The response was simple:  we have a government that rules from their desks through rules."  We are constantly seeing this in the world around us, including our ministries.  If something bad happens our rule makers spring into action to make a new rule. Rules have a purpose as Scott Simon points out:
"Scott Simon,  NPR said, “Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking. "

The counter point to rules is the virtue of wisdom.  Practical wisdom is the combination of moral will and moral skill (Aristotle), according to Barry Schwartz.  Rather than being rule makers theological institutions need to be wisdom developers.  This is not lost on businesses that have huge employee handbooks that cover everything they can think of to cover...themselves against unhappy employees suing them.  Of course developing wisdom, as with all virtues, takes a lot more time and energy...and has a lot more long term value.  Any country that bases its well being on rules will end up ruled by autocrats, bureaucrats and eventually dictators.  We do not want nonthinking people who follow the rules, we want spiritual mature people able to listen to their God and carry out their tasks with passion and compassion.  

Take a few minutes to listen to Barry Schwartz at a Ted Talk:  Recorded

Or read his comments at: Transcribed talk

My friend, Greg, pointed out (more than once) the value of simplicity when he shared with me Nordstrom's Employee Handbook:

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What is Holistic Training?

One of the key concepts that underpin ICM's approach to training and ministry is systems.  This is a science of wholeness or holism.  Instead of breaking the different parts into ever smaller parts (reductionism) we look for emergent properties that come as the individual part work together.  People are greater than their individual parts.  Their "person hood" is an emergent property that comes out of all the various parts working together.  If you took the person apart the emergent properties would disappear (see further explanation below).

One of the weaknesses of current models of church development is to view the church as separate from its environment.  We do the same thing with theological institutions like Africa Theological Seminary.  We view the seminary as a whole when learners come to campus but we seldom view it within the context of its community.  In ICM that is changing.  Our major input is learners from around Africa.  While our output is graduates our desire outcome is changed communities.  This is forcing us to see ICM/ATS as more than a "school."  We are changed agents that focus on leaders AND churches as our target audiences.  We see that our work is not complete without engaging communities for change.  As part of the goal we are blessed to have Renita Reed leading the charge to make market place businesses part of the call of the church.  Our goal is to build into the church its critical role to help equip business people to develop for effective and efficient businesses.  This is done as these business owners are recognized as special ministers to the community through their businesses and lives.

Here is a quote and a challenge from Scottish theologian Dr. George MacLeod (1895 – 1991)

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again, at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap, on a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek, or shall we say, in English, in Bantu, and in Afrikaans—at the kind of place where cynics curse and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died, and that is what He died about, and that is where Christians should be and what Christians should be about.”          

Our goal is to once again make the church whole in its approach to train and equip all people helping them to see and understand that we are all part of the glorious call to make disciples in the church and in the community...

Read the latest from Renita Reed:

Systems and Holism (from ὅλος holos, a Greek word meaning allwholeentiretotal), is the idea that natural systems (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) and their properties, should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts. This often includes the view that systems somehow function as wholes and that their functioning cannot be fully understood solely in terms of their component parts.[1][2]
Reductionism is often viewed as the opposite of holism. Reductionism in science says that a complex system can be explained by reduction to its fundamental parts. For example, the processes of biology are reducible to chemistry and the laws of chemistry are explained by physics.
Social scientist and physician Nicholas A. Christakis explains that "for the last few centuries, the Cartesian project in science has been attempting to break matter down into ever smaller bits, in the pursuit of understanding. And this works, to some extent... but putting things back together in order to understand them is harder, and typically comes later in the development of a scientist or in the development of science."[3]

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Myth Buster

There is a television show or was called Myth Busters.  It would take some commonly accepted ideas and reveal them that our common knowledge is often wrong.  What we fail to understand is that what we believe to be true often guides our behavior.  It has been noted that "it is not what we do not know that hurts us the most.  But what we know that is not true."  This has led to a number of books showing that we really are irrational about many things around us.  Part of our problem is that we never ask, "is there any quality research done on this?"

Education is going through a major shake up as our understanding of how we learn increases.  Some bemoan the fact that we are raising children with less and less motivation to do serious reading and writing.  All of the TV and video games are taking time away from serious literacy learning...or maybe not.  Perhaps we are simply following the path of least resistance. We are designed as learning machines.  The key is finding out how we most easily learn and then design our learning and teaching methods to follow these paths where possible.

There are basic learning methods (we are designed to learn certain things in certain ways) that enable us to learning the information and knowledge that will protect us and enhance our ability to live and work in our world.  We have built in mind apps (heuristics) that help us navigate the world around us.  And we have added learning methods, such as reading and writing and programming.  These secondary methods enable us to do much more than our native programs permit.

It is time to understand that while we may be less literate in the future we will become more knowledgeable and capable to face the future.  Read this article by Cisco:  Read Now

Don't be too disappointed to find out that our oft quoted pyramid of learning is not quite what it seems:

We remember

10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see

Here is another shocker for some: There is no validated research showing the validity of basing teaching on Learning Styles.  In fact the validated research shows that the whole premise of Learning Styles is on very shaky ground.  See Learning Styles Debunked.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Post Literacy or Hyper Literacy?

When we speak of a post literate era we do not mean no literacy.  It is like speaking of Europe as post Christian.  It does not mean there are no Christians, it simply means that Christianity is no longer central to life.  Statistics can be right and yet very misleading.  Recent headlines on NBC News Website  states: "More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks."  Depending on what you read it gets much, much worse.  "How can it be that, between 1982 and 2007, reading declined by nearly 20% for the overall U.S. population and 30% for young adults aged 18–24, or that 40 million Americans read at the lowest literacy level?" (see the whole article).

But maybe there is another way of looking at it.

We are moving into an era where literacy as we know it is no longer the main or only way to amass knowledge and information.  This might be a good thing.  God did not create us with the means to read and write.  We cannot simply watch someone else do it and automatically pick it up.  It is a skill alien to us and must be learned through rigorous study.  That is not a bad thing but it may not be the best thing.  With the advent of the digital age (and beyond) there are more ways to learn that are more akin to how we were created to learn.  The following link will take you to the new business book.  It has all the information of the traditional business book but is designed to more easily flow with the natural way we learn: Book Yourself Solid.  

Imagine if textbooks were written like this.  Well the day is here.  More and more information is being passed on and processed visually (which is far more efficient).  The question is "how important is literacy for the future?"  The answer may be "not very important."  This will come at a price but it is not a matter of choice.  The future is already here.  In the next decade more and more of the world will absorb information more than read it.  If you are interested read this book/blog: Beyond Literacy is a thought experiment about the demise of literacy and the rise of other capabilities, capacities or tools that will effectively and advantageously displace reading and writing. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Post Modern

I am going to copy and post a blog from a friend of mine. Alejandro Oviedo is the director of Walk Thru the Bible for Central America and the Caribbean.  More importantly he is a fellow traveler committed to making disciples.  His observations and conclusions are right on.  The failure of Christianity is not in knowledge but in function.  God has called us to "make disciples of every people group" in the world.  When any believer anywhere starts to believe that Christianity is about knowledge then the power of  Christ is diminished and the Church will decline.  Knowledge without application is simply information.  Wisdom is the application of God's Word through the power of the Holy Spirit that changes the world AND changes the believe.

In a small Bible study attended by Richard Wurmbrand (wrote Tortured for Christ) all of us young men were talking about the importance of attending a Bible believing church.  When it became Pastor Wurmbrand's time to share he looked around and said, "I do not want to be part of a Bible believing church."  That got our attention.  Then his eyes lit up as he said, "I want to be part of a Bible living church!"

I do not want to be part of a knowledge/information faith.  I want a faith that changes lives, me first, then others as I put into action the things I learn from God day to day.

By Alejandro Oviedo – Regional Director of Walk Thru the Bible Central America and The Caribbean.
Translated by Marnie Quezada Williams.

There is talk about Postchristianity today in Europe. This referring to the de-Christianization this region of the world has undergone. There has been that kind of talk since the seventies actually. For example, French Theologist Gabriel Vahanian wrote a book entitled The Death of God in which he fathomed that western civilization had lost its sense of what is sacred, had become more profane, had ceased to render sacraments as important, and had fallen into disparagement towards divine dependency. Vahanian concluded that Christian religion had been overcome, and belief in the divine had lost its validity for the postmodern man.  

50 years later, Europe’s situation regarding Christianity seems to be quite clear. For instance, the Today News Portal of January 12th, 2012 reported that in Germany -the cradle of Protestantism- only 3.4% of Lutherans go to church on Sundays. According to the Swiss National Science Foundation Research Programme, 75% of the population keeps their distance from Christianity. Average church attendance throughout Europe is 5%.

All of the above explain why many churches in Europe which used to gather thousands of God-fearing believers have now become discotheques, night clubs or museums.

Postmodernism has left behind a trail in North America. It has given way to pluralism, political correctness and a God-less moral. According to a national census in the United States, the growth rate of religions between the years of 1990 and 2001 is as follows: Christianity (including Catholics, Protestants, etc.), a mere 5.3%. Other religions like Buddhism, Muslim, Hindu, etc., grew 69.1%. And Atheism doubled up reaching a growth rate of 105.7%.

The obvious question here is: why does a society give way to the loss of Christian fundamentals.  I don’t want to sound simplistic, but I think this happens when Christians stop fulfilling their mission to “make disciples”,  that is, believers wholly committed, founded on the Bible, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Our failure sends us silently and progressively into religious secularism, which soon leads to a church that has no influence and makes no difference whatsoever in society. Thus, mortals start to think they are wiser than God and sink into the arrogance and impudence that makes them say Christianity has been overcome and that God is dead.  

HOW DO YOU DO IT? Even though I am but a small voice in the vast world, I send out this missive with the faith that those whom it reaches will feel compelled to make a difference in the society we live in, testifying of Christ, teaching to live the Word of God, first in our homes and then, everywhere within our reach. Let us make use of media even so the Gospel may be shared. Let us not settle for being just Sunday morning Christians. Let us remember our Christ-given mission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Free Education

We really are living in a very amazing times.  On one hand the cost of taking a graduate course at many seminaries has reached $500+ a credit hour.  That means if you are working on your Masters of Divinity at a good seminary it could cost $48,000 just for tuition ($500 * 96 credit hours).  On top of that you have to purchase textbooks which will cost you between $5,000 and $10,000.  Then there are all of those fees that institutions throw in like insurance, housing, food.  It is estimated that a year of study would cost between $20,000 and $30,000 for a single student.

But we are also living in an age when knowledge and courses are free.  Major universities like MIT are offering courses free online (no credit but the knowledge is there).   While you may not get credit for the courses you are free to take them. There are also independent sites that put up courses like Khan Academy. There are even sites that offer free textbooks:, wikibooks, and many more.  If you google: free courses, you will get more knowledge and information than one person can digest.  So, if the trend is towards free, why is the cost of education going up?  Good question.

The answer is pretty simple, failure to take advantage of the innovation.  The brick and mortar system is not on its way out, but it must find a way to morph into something different.  Traditional models of information delivery are changing rapidly.  The talking head spouting reams of wisdom is giving way to something new and different.  Now the talking head can actually be one of the foremost experts in their field as opposed to a professor who simply has the degree and limited knowledge.  There are groups that are working hard to become the clearing house for these types of courses.  They go out find the best courses for an area of study and then offer them in a degree.

Education is going through major changes.  But much of theological education remains the same.  We are in danger of committing a serious mistake.  Too often we in theological education are running hard to catch up with the latest, greatest advances of a decade ago.  In our attempt to pay the educational bills while forcing students through a key approach to theology we end up mistaking knowledge for spiritual wisdom.  Amazingly Plato warned against such a thing:

"If men learn this (literacy), it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows."

Change is happening, but the question remains, "Will we simply make more swollen talking heads, or will we provide leaders with an environment that changes them to be more like Jesus?"  Knowledge without transformation is simply telling "them of many things without teaching them and you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing..."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Taking the Nation

Innovation is critical for success in this day and age.  Life is changing too fast to continue doing what you have always done.  One of the great innovators of our time is Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church.  He has built a mega church (by not building a building), he has launched a worldwide movement (Purpose Driven), he has infused new strength in the missions movement and is always looking for new ways to bring the Gospel to the world.

"TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading."  It is a wonderful project bringing new ideas in short bursts of videos.  Rick shares on one of the TED videos about innovation:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Board Myths

Carter McNamara is a prolific writer and amazingly knowledgeable about many things including nonprofit organization and Board.  Take a moment and read about 10 Myths about Boards.
Posted: 31 Dec 2012 01:42 PM PST
There are numerous myths that seem to persist about Boards of Directors.  Here’s a list of 10 of them.

Myth –The phrase “corporate Boards” refers to for-profits Boards. It does conventionally, but nonprofit Boards are Boards of a corporation, too, so they’re both “corporate Boards.”

Myth — A Board of Directors can delegate its fiduciary accountability to another body, for example, to a subcommittee.  No, courts have held that the entire Board is always responsible for its fiduciary duties, not a subcommittee.

Myth — The Board Chair is the boss of the Board.  No, if a quorum of the Board members wants the Chair gone, then he/she is gone.

Myth — Working Boards are immature Boards.  No, many organizations prefer a more hands-on Board.  That’s fine, as long as they’re attending to their fiduciary roles, too.

Myth — To get more attendance by Board members, have less meetings and bring cookies.  No, it’s more effective to get engaged members if you demand that members attend.

Myth — All Boards should have term limits.   No, in small communities, you’d have to clone people if you have term limits on every Board.

Myth — The Strategic Planning Committee should do all of the planning, too.  No, the Committee should be in charge of ensuring a high-quality planning process, but all Board members should be involved in planning — or in approving the overall Plan.

Myth — Board members are officially Board members once their names are on the Board minutes or a roster.  No, courts discern a person to be a Board member if there’s proof that he/she has been acting like a Board member, e.g., attending meetings, taking part in votes, etc.

Myth — For-profits Boards and nonprofit Boards are very different.  No, most of the nature of their Board operations are the same, other than for-profits attending to director compensation, stocks and shareholders (and any rules and regulations for listed/public companies).  Nonprofits attend to volunteers and perhaps fundraising.

Myth — Strategic planning always follows the same process.  No, the process should be highly customized to the purpose of the planning, and to the nature of the client. 
Also see:  McNamara Blogs